• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Molly is the Singer in the Band

We all know I’m jaded, blah, blah, blah. But I still do feel a sacred responsibility when I am the first reader on a book. It’s a moment in the life of a writer and the life of a book when the finger paint is still wet, when the colors are vibrant and livid and shiny and happy to be hung on a string against a wall of construction paper. I’ve often felt that life recapitulates kindergarten when it comes to ribbons and pats of on the head and your first taste that a bully is mean just for the sport of it. When I read a manuscript, I’m harsh and unholy. It’s not my job to deliver a soft boiled egg. But then I figure out a way to say it, to hold a mirror up to the mirror and ask, did you want to look this way? Is this your best light? What can you see that you couldn’t see?

How do give your fellow writers feedback?

8 Responses

  1. I’m nice – but honest. I like the sandwich method, good/bad/good. Unless it’s really . . . terrible. But, like that old adage if you can’t say something nice . . . so maybe comment on the great punctuation, IDK.

    I read part of a ms once – been about a year ago – for a lady here in town. She buys ALL my books and reads them, talks them up. Then, she asked if I’d read something of hers. That put me in a tough spot, really.

    She said, “I write like you, you know tough stories.”

    Cringing, sort of, I say, “Okay, send me something.”

    She sends me chp . . . I don’t know, like chp 8, or something. I say, “where’s chp 1-7?” No response. So I read what she sends. It went something like, “Woman, where’s my supper? It’s six o’clock.” “I’m sorry honey, I’ll get it, it’s just I had this headache, and . . . ”

    WHACK! Man goes wild on wife. There’s a beating. There’s a rape. There’s a crumbling, timid woman serving supper 15 mins later.

    The feedback was kind, but what I pointed out was maybe in chapter 1-7, there’s important backstory as to why the wife has married an ass? Maybe if she’d given me chp 1, or even 1-3 I might have had more understanding? Classic case of let’s jump to the “good” part, the part where’s there’s some action.

    Anyway – no matter how cringey, I’m nice.

  2. Gently and specifically. There’s enough meanness without me piling on.

  3. I’m exacting and supportive. Show me your work at your own risk.

  4. “How do give your fellow writers feedback?”

    I try not to. It’s been a while since any have asked. It’s not my business to be an editor. I tend to be very certain and specific in my critiques. Could it be said that I can be harsh? I don’t know, but I can see how it could. A few years ago, I ruined a couple friendships. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to give my fellow writers feedback. There’s a plethora of writing programs available, both online and in person. A writer can pony up some loose change and get fed back to heart’s content, opinions delivered by persons with all proper degrees and titles of employ. Leave me be.

  5. Not very well. I’m way too nice to say when something is awful and, truthfully, I can usually find something in someone’s work that makes me wish I thought of that particular phrasing or imagery. Mostly I save my opinions for things I really like and can freely be honest about.

  6. I once took a workshop with Peter Orner and was in awe at the way he managed to find ponies in piles of horseshit. Most of the writing bordered on “beginner,” with a few bright spots, a few writers who had promise. Whether they (or their work) did or not, he could find the thing they were doing right, or best, and highlight the crap out of it. I want to be able to do that with everything anyone asks me to read. It is very, very hard, and I will always be grateful for having seen him do it with so much grace and care.

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